Fallout from the President’s remarks rippled through a tense and confrontational meeting in Kabul between the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, according to two sources familiar with their conversation.
During the meeting, Afghan officials said Trump’s comments were “unacceptable,” given the relationship between the US and Afghanistan. At one point in his Oval Office remarks, Trump referred to dropping America’s largest non-nuclear bomb on Afghanistan in 2017, and said that dropping more of them would be the “easy solution” to ending the conflict there.
Afghan officials also told Khalilzad that Trump should show more respect for Ghani’s leadership. The State Department declined to comment, but previously unplanned follow-up meetings will take place in Kabul on Wednesday.
Publicly, Afghan officials were equally scathing.
“The Afghan nation has not and will never allow any foreign power to determine its fate,” Sediq Sediqqi, the spokesman for the President of Afghanistan, said in a statement. “Given the multifaceted relationship between Afghanistan and the United States, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan calls for clarification on the US President’s statements.”
The President’s comments also drew condemnation from the Taliban, marking a rare topic of agreement for the insurgent group and the Afghan government.
Trump on Monday had suggested that he could put an end to the Afghanistan war in a week, but that it would cost millions of lives and wipe the country “off the face of the Earth.”
“If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people,” Trump said, seated beside Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House on Monday. “I have plans on Afghanistan, that if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth. It would be gone. It would be over in – literally, in 10 days, and I don’t want to do – I don’t want to go that route.”
A spokesman for the Taliban – a group the State Department says is responsible for beheadings, amputations, stonings and civilian casualties – condemned Trump’s remarks as “irresponsible.”
“Trump’s policy that he does not want to play the role of a police officer in Afghanistan and that this war against an entire nation cannot be won so long as they are alive is something positive,” Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement. “However, his claim that he can wipe out Afghanistan, kill 10 million Afghans and win this war through such a method is irresponsible and we condemn it in the strongest terms.”
The spokesman went on to criticize the US’ ongoing military presence in Afghanistan, referring to a bomb that Trump mentioned during his appearance with Khan. The US dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in the American arsenal – the “mother of all bombs” – on Afghanistan in April 2017.
‘The easy solution’
Speaking to reporters, Trump said, “They were going to make many of them, and I said, ‘No, we don’t have to,’ ” going on to say that use of such bombs is “actually the easy solution” to the ending the conflict in Afghanistan.
Mujahid said, “America has never shown restraint in killing the Afghans over the past 18 years and has used all weapons of mass destruction including the Mother of All Bombs. Yet the 18 years of force proved that the policy of aggression and tyranny is fruitless and demonstrates ignorance regarding why Afghanistan is called the Graveyard of Empires.”
The Taliban spokesman added that Trump should focus on “finding a peaceful and rational solution” and consider a negotiation plan.
The US has been pursuing a diplomatic strategy to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan, holding on-again, off-again talks with the Taliban in Qatar to reach a peace deal. Earlier this month, a group of prominent Afghans —including some Afghan government officials acting in a personal capacity — held two days of joint talks with the Taliban, unofficially agreeing on a roadmap on how they might reach a peace deal.
Despite the breakthrough, attacks have continued since then, including a suicide bombing at a wedding, a car bombing outside Afghanistan’s Kandahar City police headquarters, and a deadly explosion outside the gates of Kabul University.
The US is hoping Pakistan can help push the Taliban to directly meet with the Afghan government.
Khalilzad’s visit began just hours after Trump’s comments. He announced his arrival on Twitter Tuesday and said that he was there to focus on “achieving an enduring peace that ends the war, ensures terrorists do not use Afghanistan to threaten the US, honors the sacrifices that US, our allies & Afghans made, and cements an enduring relationship w/ Afghanistan.”
Afghan officials have also been concerned about the role that Pakistan has played in the peace negotiations with the Taliban.
While Trump described Pakistan as a helpful force in pushing ahead the peace process with the Taliban during his press appearance with Khan, that is not how Afghanis view Pakistan’s influence.
The Afghan government sees Pakistan as harboring and supporting terrorism in Afghanistan, including its support for the Taliban. Afghan leaders have also been frustrated over the last few months because they believe that Pakistan has gotten their hands on more fulsome information and expedient readouts of the US-Taliban peace talks than Afghan officials have.
Khalilzad has now had seven rounds of talks with the Taliban. The latest round was earlier this month. The special representative has said progress is being made but hasn’t offered details.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last month that the US is prepared to remove American troops from Afghanistan, but has not agreed on a timeline. Pompeo said he “hopes” a deal will be reached by September 1, ahead of the Afghan presidential elections later that month.
The Afghan government was the second country since Monday to push back against Trump’s remarks made during that Oval Office meeting with Khan.
A spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Raveesh Kumar, denied Trump’s claim, saying on Twitter that “no such request has been made” by Modi.
CNN’s Masoud Popalzai, Nikhil Kumar, Nathan Hodge, Ehsan Popalzai in Kabul, Afghanistan and Mitch McCluskey in Atlanta contributed to this report